Friday, May 7, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

As promised, here's my thoughts about everybody's favorite man-in-a-tin-can.

Loud Sounds and Nick Fury
Iron Man 2 is bigger, bolder but not quite better

Deciding whether the Iron Man armor worn by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), with its funky, zappy-laser thingies, is cooler than the War Machine armor worn by Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), with its “Say hello to my little friends” full-on arsenal, may be easier than deciding whether Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage is more impressive than Mickey Rourke’s heaving bosom. Iron Man 2, a love song to excess, is filled with these kinds of bigger-better-more pairings; it’s all about doubling everything, not just the pleasure and fun.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) delivered unto director Jon Favreau a kludge script. It gets the job done, welding giant action set pieces with subplots that sorta-kinda fit together if you squint hard enough. The sequel picks up shortly after Stark’s ego led him to admit to his alter ego. The uber-tattooed Ivan Vanko (Rourke) crawls out of a vodka bottle somewhere in Siberia to discover that his father’s designs for a power generator had been stolen by Stark’s papa. So he does what any good son would do: He creates a cyber exoskeleton with huge whips and goes to Monaco with murder on his mind.

Meanwhile, Stark is busy fending off demands from the U.S. Government to turn over his suit, dodging attacks on his company and legacy from his competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and trying not to die from palladium poisoning—it’s best to leave that particular storyline alone. Thankfully, he has friends in all places: his best bud Rhodey is in the military; his would-be lady love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is the new Stark Corporation C.E.O.; his hand-sculpted-by-God new assistant, Natasha (Johansson), is at his beck and call and his cryptic, cyclopic ally Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is there to show up at just the right time with a box full of deus ex machina.

Oh, it’s a mess. Theroux’s subplots don’t tangle so much as they run parallel to one another, screaming at the top of their lungs the whole way. Still, it’s often a very fun mess. Between Rockwell’s foppish, flopping foil and Downey’s nuclear arsenal of charm, it may be physically impossible to not at least have a good time. That in and of itself is somewhat of an accomplishment in this post-Dark Knight era, when glee is often swapped out for “realistic” gruff. The biggest gaffe revealed is the weakness inherent to the mythos of Iron Man himself: his villains mostly suck. Vanko doesn’t so much present himself as a terrifying nemesis so much as a whack-a-mole who needs to get rock-em sock-em robot-ed every once and awhile.

What is most interesting is Marvel Comics’ commitment to their larger motion picture agenda. “Easter eggs,” the nickname given to the cinematic practice of tiny winks-and-nods to the audience, regarding Thor and Captain America are delivered by the double baker’s dozen. Although the claim that Iron Man 2 is nothing more than a set-up to the upcoming Avengers flick is overly dismissive and kind of pissy, there’s no question that the only truly consequential events in the film involve Fury and his soon-to-be-assembled team.

In some ways, Iron Man 2 is one of the most comic book-like of all comic book adaptations, with its superfluous-but-kinda-cool crossovers (as with the sometimes delightfully spandexed but wholly unnecessary Johansson) and dialed-to-11 storytelling. The first film was a surprise, riding the charisma of a redeemed former-cokehead superstar. The second doubles down hard in every department and uses Downey’s rapscallion nature as the glue that holds it together. It’s by no means a well-oiled machine, but this bucket of bolts is still blockbuster-bound.

Grade = B

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

:-) I always read your movie comments before I see a movie, not only to see if it is worth the time but also to enjoy the moments in the movie where I can hear a Ryan voice in my head freak out. ---> T.O.

May 12, 2010  
Blogger Ryan said...

Thanks TO. You rule.

May 12, 2010  

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